Life on a Strange Attractor

Stable State

One day, in as much as any day could be referred to in the singular at that time, Mr. Jones awoke with a feeling of uncertainty. A sense of dread seemed to push upwards from the pit of his stomach causing his heart to labour. He was seized by an oppressive fear of what the day would bring. This was nothing unusual, but then, nothing ever was.

Fortunately, Dr. Coffee-pot sensed this developing mood and with a satisfied plink, he plinked number twelve, `Comforting reassurance', into Mr. Jones' coffee-mix. The doctor loved his job, but then, he was built to. He sent a request to Mr. Bolts for more chemicals and then began to hum the sort of tune he thought appropriate to a happy domestic appliance.

Mrs. Jones was woken up by the humming. She frowned an unfocused frown of vague irritation. Mrs. Jones did not like Dr. Coffee-pot; she didn't even like coffee that much. Dr. Coffee-pot clicked his nano-relays in agitation as he sensed her antipathy. Comforting himself with the thought that she would be quite unable to cope without him, he added number seven, `Reconciliation and belonging' into her coffee-mix and poured them each a steaming cup. Immortality is a trial for all of us he thought distractedly.

As Mr. Jones hauled himself into an upright position he felt a sudden wave of disgust. There was something about the sight of his wife in the morning that nauseated him - perhaps it was her, now unkempt, blonde hair, perhaps a slight clamminess about her skin or perhaps the lingering puppy fat about her face. He was in no mood to analyse it, whatever it was. He reached instead for the coffee-mix and took a hasty gulp scalding the roof of his mouth and the tip of his tongue. He shifted uncomfortably so that no part of him was pressed against his wife's naked flesh and then took a more cautious sip.

Dr. Coffee-pot fumed at his own impotence. Having poured the coffee, there was no way it could be unpoured. He desperately wanted to snatch back the drink and rediagnose. He had dozens of stimulants and mood-enhancers more appropriate to his owner's new mood - `Reconciliation and belonging', `Devotion',`Love and understanding' and a host of others. Every sip Mr. Jones took plunged the doctor further into his guilt and his cheery humming cut off abruptly.

The sudden silence cause Mrs. Jones to glance upwards at her husband sipping his coffee-mix and then flutter her eyes closed again. She was not anxious to greet her husband. Some weakness in his eyes or the pallor of his skin repelled her and made her think that the pretence of sleep was easier, and perhaps preferable, to the pretence of affection.

Mr. Jones finished the rest of his drink quickly, burning his mouth further and then headed off for a shower as the carefully tailored chemicals did their work and began to comfort and reassure him, in turn confirming and strengthening his increasing dislike of his wife. As soon as he was gone Mrs. Jones reached for her drink. While morning seeped away into noon, they danced their usual dance of avoidance throughout the house, following each other over the usual circuit from bed to shower to dressing to preening and hair-brushing and finally to breakfast. At each stage as they passed they murmured hasty and embarrassed goodmornings and sleepwells.

Through this ritual moved Mr. Bolts and Dog Rover. Not programmed for empathy like Dr. Coffee-pot they were both cheerful as they went about their business. Mr. Bolts, tall and efficient, stalked about the rooms tidying and fussing as always. While he tidied and fussed he talked his long streams of cheering human-talk. "Good morning sir... hope you slept well madam... Now we mustn't leave our clothes lying about must we?... Oh dear this bed is dreadfully untidy... If you'll just allow me to straighten..." The chatter drifted easily over Mr. and Mrs. Jones mixing with the mood enhancers in their blood calming them and reassuring them that everything was the same as usual.

Mr. Bolts helped the couple in his way by providing them with reassurance, love and the feeling that someone was looking after them. Dog Rover helped them by providing them with something to love and to look after. Dog Rover was designed to be small, cute and helpless. His legs were different lengths so that he fell over if he walked more than three steps. He was designed not to resent this but sometimes he managed to anyway. He waddled around Mr. and Mrs. Jones falling over and being fallen over. Because they were, in some senses, very young, Mr. and Mrs. Jones found this behaviour endearing. Dog Rover, for his part, often pleaded with Mr. Bolts to fix his legs so that he could walk straight. Twice every day he would ask and twice every day Mr. Bolts replied that if the Implementors had wished Dog Rover to walk straight then Dog Rover would have been designed to do so. As Mr. Bolts finished explaining this for the first time today he received a message from Dr. Coffee-pot. "Mr Bolts, to the kitchen please, possible marital problems are about to arise." Dr. Coffee-pot loved his job but he hated to have to call for help. This must be serious, thought Mr. Bolts as he hurried into the kitchen.

Despite Dr. Coffee-pot's skill in sensing and understanding the emotional states experienced by his owners, there was little he could do to correct them unless they actually drank the coffee-mix he provided. As Mr. and Mrs. Jones pushed cereal around in their bowls and swirled coffee around in their cups, the words "We've got to talk." hung over them like a weight. Each avoided the other's eyes as they started and then stopped sentences beginning "I've not been happy with.." and "I've been thinking a lot about.. " Had either of them been drinking the coffee-mix instead of staring moodily into it then their embarrassment would have been ended. Just a few sips would have ensured `undying devotion' at a chemical level for up to an hour per dose. Just as Mrs. Jones had thought of the conclusion to a sentence which began "I think it's time that..." Mr. Bolts entered the dining room.

"I hope I'm not interrupting sir and madam," said Mr. Bolts, hoping that he was, "but it's such a lovely day again that I thought you might want the garden furniture set out."

"Hmm.. yeah," answered Mr. Jones vaguely, "I think I'll come and help you with that."

As the man and the machine left and headed out into the garden and Mrs. Jones returned to the bedroom to change into a swimming costume, Dr. Coffee-pot fumed silently as his sensors bought him reports of two untouched cups of coffee-mix cooling slowly until they reached thermal equilibrium with their surroundings.

Before too long Mr. Jones was stretched out on a sun-lounge by the pool. He had waved a cheery good afternoon to his neighbours Mr. Jones (east) and Mr. Jones (west) before settling down to bask in the sun's rays which were at their most powerful just after mid-day. He spent the afternoon in a combination of exercise and sun-bathing, a compromise between his desire to be lazy and his desire to keep fit. He wished he could swim like his wife but when they had been taught their life-time of knowledge before being hatched from the synthi-womb in the basement she had been shown how to swim and he had not.

Mrs. Jones loved to swim and as she propelled herself lazily around and across the pool she let her mind drift as well. She thought of colours, of the deep, glistening blue of the water, of the bright red of her swimsuit and of the pale flesh-tones of her slender arms as they cut through the water. She thought of Mr. Jones (east) and his promise. She thought of the oceans that Mr. Bolts talked about when he told them The Story. It was strange to think of the oceans. She imagined them as being like her pool only much bigger and irregularly shaped round the edge. She thought how hard it must be to walk near an ocean with crinkly sides and not fall in. She thought of Mr. Bolts telling them about the drowning that could happen to people who couldn't swim if they fell into deep water. She thought of her husband and of drowning and she smiled a slow smile. "What a shame they filled the oceans in." she thought.

Dog Rover basked alongside Mr. Jones with his four mismatched legs splayed out around him. He opened one eye and peered at his owner who was sleepily scratching him round the ears and the fur near his solar collectors. Dog Rover wriggled with pleasure and smiled happily as the energy streaming off the sun filled him completely. Even Mr. Bolts seemed to be relaxing and letting himself recharge before returning to his task of tidying the house. Only Dr. Coffee-pot couldn't bring himself to unwind. His electronic empathy allowed himself to visualise the problems beneath the tranquil exterior. "One hasty diagnosis and two correct ones untouched." he thought. "What a terrible day."

Dr. Coffee-pot had a further set-back when two steaming cups of "Love and Understanding" were returned with a request for fruit-juice. Dr. Coffee-pot loved his job but only when it went well.

Mr. Jones sipped the last of his juice and read the first page of the dog-eared book for the fifth time today. He could never seem to get started on it properly and he just couldn't concentrate. The sun glared off the white page and he felt too hot. He put the book down, thinking about The Story and about how the whole planet used to wobble and make it get hotter and colder depending on some things called The Four Seasons. Mr. Jones wished it would get colder but at the same time he felt glad that they had managed to stop the planet wobbling.

"Of course I can't teach you, silly." said Mrs. Jones. "How can we learn anything now that we've left the womb? But come into the water anyway." She pushed herself away from Mr. Jones who was squatting by the pool-side. From a distance she splashed water at him and beckoned him to follow her. Despite Mr. Bolts' stern warning about the dangers of the pool, he wanted to try it and dipped an experimental toe into the cool, clear water.

Mr. Jones was sitting by the pool with the lower parts of both legs under the water when the crash of the house door startled him. Mr. Bolts, who had been inside looking for things to tidy, appeared, running towards him in a bewildering, fast-moving whirl of metallic limbs. The expression of panic on his metal face would have been comical but Mr. Jones was too surprised to react. Mr. Bolts was the fastest runner on the planet and could run half way round the world in a single night. Within a few seconds he had reached Mr. Jones and dragged him away from the pool.

Mrs. Jones swum slowly to the other side of the pool with unhurried leg-kicks and listened with amusement to the stern warning which Mr. Bolts was delivering. She climbed out of the pool and began to towel herself dry. As the stern warning drew to a close, she lost interest in eavesdropping and moved over to the fence to look for her eastern neighbour Mr. Jones.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Jones."

"Good afternoon Mr. Jones."

They grinned amused grins at the coincidence, he baring his perfect white teeth and she wrinkling her nose prettily and twinkling her eyes. Together, blonde, blue-eyed, perfectly formed (for machines make no mistakes), and in swim-wear, they looked like an advert for the master-race visiting the beach.

"You look well." he said and because, even in a world where nothing ever changes, some things never change, he found himself staring at her breasts.

"Thank you." she said shifting uncomfortably under his gaze. "And are you feeling a bit better today?"

He refocused on her face and looked glum. "I still wish I could swim."

"I could teach you. Mr. Bolts says that in the past people could learn things even after they'd been born."

"Your Mr. Bolts says that too? I was never sure whether to believe it."

"I never know if The Story is true or not. I wish there were still oceans though."

"Only because you can swim. I wish there were still mountains."

"And valleys."

"And a moon."

"Oh... wouldn't you be scared of it falling? But I do wish..."

And so they talked meaningless talk of happiness and dreams to show they were both nice people. Then they talked of emotions, of upset and of anguish to show they were both sensitive people. Then they talked of love and of romance to show that they were both caring people. Finally they talked of sex to show that they were both interested people. Within a short space of time Mr. Jones was suggesting that they walk for a while in the trees at the back of their houses and Mrs. Jones was pretending to be unsure to show that she knew exactly where such a walk would lead.

Dog Rover was still by the pool when Dr. Coffee-pot appeared in his mindscape and warned him of a possible marital infidelity about to occur. Looking up, he took in the situation quickly and realised there was only one course of action. He tottered over to the pool, nearly tripping over his mismatched legs and yapped a despairing, electronic yap as he hurled himself into the clear blue water. The water quickly shorted his neural circuits and he thought nothing more as it closed over his head like a lid.

Mrs. Jones ground her teeth in frustration as her eastern neighbour ran towards his pool in response to the distant yapping sound.

"See you tomorrow?" she called as he ran.

"I promise." he promised looking back at her.

Behind her Mrs. Jones heard a faint yap and a splash from her own pool.

A few awkward hours had dragged by while Mr. Bolts in the cellar struggled to repair the fused circuits in Dog Rover. Mr. and Mrs. Jones spent the time fretting and alternately blaming themselves and each other. Eventually, Dr. Coffee-pot was able to persuade them to drink a cup of `Tranquility' and Mr. Bolts reappeared to give them their evening meal and to reassure them that Dog Rover would be fully fixed soon. They ate their meal in a silence that was broken only by the squeak of cutlery on crockery and the occasional short question or comment. Soon after that Mr. Bolts reappeared carrying Dog Rover in his arms. He began to explain that Dog Rover was still weak from his experience and should be allowed to recharge. He tailed of as he realised that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jones were listening but were instead gathered round their returned pet, fussing over him and comforting him and assuring him it would never happen again. Dog Rover glanced with reproach at Mr. Bolts, having yet again had his request for corrective engineering refused.

Later that evening, with Mr. and Mrs. Jones sitting on the floor like children and Dog Rover curled up between them, Mr. Bolts told them The Story, which, like any meaningless ritual repeated often enough, had acquired silent capitals to emphasise its importance. He told The Story every evening and he could not remember a time when he had changed it. They asked him questions every evening and he could not remember a time when they had asked different questions. He told them about how things used to be. He told them about mountains and valleys. He told them about seas and deserts. He told them about death and wars. He told them about the moon and the planets. He told them about inconstancy and change. He told them about weather and the seasons. He told them about growth and about destruction. He told them about The Implementors and how they had changed everything.

"The Implementors hated change. They hated change because change is the most frightening thing of all. Because they were wise they had the power and they could stop change forever. They destroyed the moon and the other planets. They levelled the mountains. They watered the deserts and they dried the swamps. They filled in the oceans and they destroyed all the forests. They tore down and removed all that was inconstant and changeable. When they had finished the face of the Earth was bare. Then they replaced that which was changeable and had been destroyed with that which was unchangeable and they created creatures to look after it and creatures to live in it. When their work was complete nothing was inconstant except the stars which still move slowly. That is why it is dangerous to look at the night sky."

"And the Implementors," asked Mr. Jones, "what happened to them?"

"They were taken to the North Pole where they sleep forever in the care of Madam Gaia the Earth-Mother." replied Mr. Bolts. "I go to see them at night when you are asleep. They are very beautiful."

Of course they asked plenty of other questions, as they always did and Mr. Bolts did his best to answer from his small store of information. Mr. Jones asked him about mountains and deserts and the moon. Mrs. Jones asked him about oceans and drowning and death. In time they tired of asking him questions and he packed them off to bed with two cups of `Love and Desire' from Dr. Coffee-pot.

Soon afterwards they made love, but because it was poorly made, from chemicals and lust, it soon turned into guilt and eventually contempt. They turned away from each other and slept.

As husband and wife slept, Mr. Bolts quietly left the house and ran. He ran north. To the east a figure ran ahead of him and to the west a figure ran behind him. He ran north for many, many miles. He ran all the way to the pole where Madam Gaia nestled in her metal house which was set to go all the way down to the core of the planet. There she gave him the chemicals and minerals needed to replace everything used during the day. When he asked her, as he always did, if he could gaze on the faces of the Implementors as they slept she allowed him to for a brief moment but then told him to be on his way. Another figure moved behind him to take his place and he started to run back without delay. He had a quarter of the world to move across before sun-rise. He ran swiftly and kept his eyes piously averted from the heavens. It is dangerous to look at the night sky.

As husband and wife slept, Dog Rover lay at the foot of the bed and in his mind-scape he lay on a sunny beach and spoke to Dr. Coffee-pot about the days events. In Dog Rover's mind-scape Dr. Coffee-pot was pictured as a rather fluffy female version of Dog Rover with long, straight, matched legs. Dr. Coffee-pot found this disconcerting at first but soon became comfortable with the idea.

"You know doctor, it's as if I've got a hole in my memory. I can recall all yesterday's events except for a few hours around now."

"That's very strange because I've been thinking the same. I wonder why."

"I don't know. Perhaps something important will happen to us in the next few hours."

"Perhaps something.... different." said Dr. Coffee-pot, wagging his tail at the delightfully unexpected nature of the idea.

"Perhaps something different." repeated Dog Rover watching approvingly the pleasure Dr. Coffee-pot took in his new form. "We should talk of important matters."

And so they talked of everything they had done and seen during the day. Naturally, this was the same as everything they had done and seen during every day but they talked of it anyway. They discussed organic life and if it could ever be considered intelligent and self-aware. They argued whether Mr. and Mrs. Jones realised that they were living the same day over and over again. They philosophised about the nature of consciousness. They talked about change and they longed for it. They found in each other kindred spirits and they found sides to their nature that they hadn't been aware of and they enjoyed the surprise of these new sensations more than anything they'd ever encountered before. As the sun began to rise they agreed to delete the conversation from their memory so that they could treasure its newness again as they had always done.

As husband and wife slept, Madam Gaia sent her satellites off into the cosmos on a quest for materials which would keep everything running smoothly. Insulated cleaning machines scoured heavier elements from the heart of the sun and stopped their build-up causing its burning to slow. Further away, robots were dismantling the few remaining asteroids for parts. Beyond this more exotic devices had reached nearby stars and were busying themselves collecting energy and hydrogen and disposing of the remains of the ones that they had finished with. It is dangerous to look up into the night sky because almost imperceptibly, one by one, the stars are going out.

Impulsive Function

The next day was a day that could be called a day and referred to in a way that would distinguish it from other days. This was something that had not happened for swathes of time too large for any imagination. Out just beyond the range of Madam Gaia's influence a star was dying. In its dying the star blazed with a hectic, sickly-white light brighter than it had ever shone in life. The light had travelled for many hundreds of years and was very dim. In the end, only one being ever noticed it.

Dog Rover was still by the pool when Dr. Coffee-pot appeared in his mindscape and warned him of a possible marital infidelity about to occur. Looking up, he noticed a light in the sky. "Something has changed." he thought wildly and the world seemed to shatter around him and the fragments reformed in to a coherent, yet altered, whole. A mechanical construct should not be able to swoon, but somehow he managed.

Mrs. Jones found herself walking in the unknown woods with a man who was not her husband (although, to be fair, there was no actual physical test that could distinguish him from her husband). They had gone but a short distance when he turned to face her. His fingers brushed hers and then their fingers intertwined, his hand holding hers with a tightness that felt like desperation. It felt, to her, as if somewhere a switch had been closed. They kissed.

Mr. Jones returned disconsolately to his seat by the pool. Something had interrupted his liaison with Mrs. Jones (west) and she had had to leave. He felt he should have said something as she ran, but he could not remember what. It seemed, to him, as if somewhere the script he had been reading had ended unexpectedly. Despite the sun, he felt cold.

Dog Rover came round thinking only of the shock he had suffered. Some instinct made him contact Dr. Coffee-pot. For some reason, he thought that the doctor would be the only one who would really understand.

Dr. Coffee-pot, received the news with outward calm yet he had been waiting millennia for such an event. As an intellectual, and someone consigned to life as an immobile domestic appliance can aspire to little else, he had often thought about the idea of change but rarely considered the consequences. His thoughts were a mad whirl of cliche and adolescent fantasy. From here on, anything was possible.

Mr. Bolts gave a brief start as he noticed a discrepancy between observation and recollection. "How dreadfully untidy." he thought to himself and continued his work with redoubled vigour.

Chaotic Motion

One day, Mr. Jones awoke with a feeling of uncertainty. He turned over to face his partner. It had seemed logical that they moved in together after their wives left them. His own wife was now living with his ex-neighbour. His partner's wife had taken one of the Mr. Bolts and a Dog Rover and was hiking to the north pole. It seemed that she wanted to see the Implementors for herself even though Madam Gaia claimed that they had been dead all this time. Outside, a light drizzle began but he was used to such wonders by now.

Mr. Jones lay back in bed and considered what he would do today. He was starting a newspaper. Since so much seemed to happen now it seemed worth having someone write it all down in case the whirl of events became too much to cope with. There was so much to tell. Weather had returned, and that had been a talking point for weeks. Most of the Dog Rovers had insisted on having their legs straightened, some of them had even gone as far as getting themselves made taller. A party of Mr. Bolts had just set off for the unexplored south-pole on a "general purpose exploration and tidying" mission. A considerable amount of house and bed swapping had occurred and this process continued but seemed to be settling down. A fashion seemed to be arising for individuality. Hair-dying, name changing and unusual clothing seemed to be catching on. His partner, Mr. Smith, was a prime example of this. Some people had even gone as far as creating new life. With the help of the synthi-wombs there had been three new people created this week alone. There was even talk of using the older, darker methods and creating new life that way.

He stretched and got out of the bed, leaving Mr. Smith to catch a few extra hours sleep. Mr. Smith had been having a worse time than most coping with the hectic pace of a changing life-style and as a result had been sleeping badly. Mr. Jones headed for the bathroom to get a shower. As had become his habit he stopped to contemplate his reflection. There definitely seemed to be a few more grey hairs and a few extra wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. It had only taken a few years for them to form. He was aging and he would die. He inhaled deeply, and for the first time in millennia he felt content.


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